Writing the right way

June 1, 2002
Marjorie Brody
Marjorie Brody

Marjorie Brody is the founder of Brody Professional Development in Jenkintown, PA. She is an internationally recognized author and speaker who helps individuals achieve their potential by strengthening their professionalism, persuasiveness and presence. To book Marjorie for a presentation, call (800) 726-7936, or visit her Web site at www.MarjorieBrody.com. To sign up for Marjorie’s free quarterly newsletter, go to www.BrodyPro.com.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Guidelines for effective correspondence.

The pen is not always mightier than the sword. Confident business professionals can suddenly become nervous when told they should write a letter, thank-you note or proposal – even an e-mail.

In the highly relationship-oriented business of pharmaceutical sales, there is no escaping the need to communicate via letter, memo, proposal or e-mail.

Becoming an effective business writer does not require a degree in journalism. But you do need to understand that different types of business writing exist, and they have their own styles and formats.

Points to remember

There are seven points to remember for any type of writing:

• Be concise, not wordy. Get right to the point. What information do you want the reader to walk away with and/or follow up on?

• Remember your audience. Your writing should be geared to readers. Don't use words or acronyms that your doctors, pharmacists, hospital doctors, administrators and other gatekeepers won't know.

• Keep it simple. Having an impressive vocabulary is one thing; using stuffy words when writing is simply pretentious. Don't say "transpire" when you mean "happen."

• Always check for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Even after you use a computer spell checker, do it the old-fashioned way - with a dictionary and stylebook. The computer has limitations. If, for example, you say "there," but mean "their," the computer will not think a mistake has been made.

• Before a final draft is sent, print a hard copy. Read the printout carefully; many mistakes are found even at this stage.

• Have someone else read it before the piece is final. The writer is always too close to the work to remain objective. It's also more difficult to edit a self-written piece.

• Be active, not passive. Never start a sentence with a passive phrase; it seems weak. Instead of "Since the drug was approved for sale, 85% of doctors in the Delaware Valley have written scripts for it," use "Eighty-five percent of doctors in the Delaware Valley have written scripts for this medicine since it was approved for sale."

Writing memos

By its very definition, a memo should be brief. If your comments can't fit on one page, write a letter. Memos should be constructed in the following manner:

Business letters

Business letters should be direct and easily understood. You can use a more conversational style in letters than when writing text for publication. Contractions, for example, are OK to use sparingly in letters - not in articles or books (unless you are trying to be "chatty"). Generally speaking, boldface does not belong in letters. Unless they're personal or informal, all letters should be done on a computer or typewriter - especially sales letters. All letters should be constructed in the following manner:

Thank-you notes

Thank-you notes are a wonderful way to make yourself memorable. Everyone appreciates getting a handwritten note acknowledging their help, kindness and sharing of time.

If your company doesn't provide formal thank-you note paper and envelopes, it wouldn't be a bad idea to invest in some nice notepaper.

A handwritten thank-you note always has greater impact than one that's typed or e-mailed. But, if you know the doctor's style is to read e-mails - or that's how you always correspond – it's acceptable to send a thank you via cyberspace.

E-mails aren't always easier

Without question, the area of business writing that has seen the greatest rise in recent years is e-mail. As greater numbers of doctors' offices, managed care companies and other medical practitioners join the cyberspace community, more people obtain e-mail addresses. Here are seven tips for effective e-mails:

• Watch your words! You may think that what you say is easy to understand, but sometimes words can be misconstrued in an e-mail. Choose what you say carefully.

• Don't "flame." Using antagonistic words - known as flames in cyberspeak - can be hurtful. If a problem exists, resolve it in person.

• Few people like "spam." When sending unsolicited e-mails, make sure that there is value, or recipients will consider them "spam" (Internet lingo for junk mail). Better yet, check first to see if sending an e-mail is OK.

• There is no such thing as private e-mail. Even when a message is deleted, most software programs store messages on the hard drive. Consider what may happen if the message is read by someone else - like your supervisor. Just because it's on your PDA or laptop doesn't mean it's yours - your company still owns the content of every e-mail you send using their equipment and Internet connection.

• Keep attachments to a minimum. The larger the attachment, the longer it takes to download and the more memory it takes up in the recipient's computer. Consider sending large files in hard copy by traditional means (U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx, etc.).

• To CC or not to CC? Just like a memo, you may want copies of your e-mail sent to other co-workers or clients. Try to keep people informed more on a need-to-know basis.

• Never assume. While you may be familiar with Internet lingo and various emoticons (like the popular smiley face :-) and others), don't assume the recipient is.


Writing technical documents doesn't have to be troublesome. Proposals that are easy to understand and personalized get attention. Consider these suggestions:

• Remember that a book is often judged by its cover. Include the prospective client's company name, its logo, and the specific name of the person reviewing.

• Pictures often speak louder than words. Blend pictures with your words to make the proposal more appealing and exciting.

• Bullets work. Make the proposal user-friendly by incorporating bulleted and boldface information as attention-getting devices. Write an index if the proposal is long.

Follow these suggestions and you should increase your odds that your written correspondence will get the results you want … and not end up in the circular file or computer recycle bin. PR

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